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Recommended Picture Books: Picture Books for Older Readers

coy_game changerCoy, John  Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game
Gr. K–3     32 pp.     Carolrhoda

Illustrated by Randy DuBurke. Coy tells the dramatic story of an illegal, secret basketball game in Jim Crow–era North Carolina between the white Duke University Medical School team and the black North Carolina College of Negroes team. The succinct narrative is well paced, compelling, and multilayered, focusing on the remarkable game but also placing it in societal and historical context. DuBurke’s illustrations nicely capture the story’s atmosphere. Timeline. Bib.
Subjects: Sports; Sports—Basketball; African Americans; Race relations; North Carolina; McLendon, John B.

danticat_mamas-nightingaleDanticat, Edwidge  Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
Gr. K–3     32 pp.     Dial

Illustrated by Leslie Staub. In this gentle story, Haitian American Saya’s mother is incarcerated because she has no papers. Danticat’s direct, resonant prose doesn’t shy away from the realities — telling of Saya’s loneliness of missing her mother and the trauma of saying goodbye at the detention facility. Staub’s naive-style oil paintings keep the focus on the child; the larger issue of the plight of refugees and immigrants makes the story universal.
Subjects: Picture Books; Prisons and prisoners; Family—Mother and daughter; Immigration; Haitian Americans

morstad_when green becomes tomatoesFogliano, Julie  When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons
Gr. 4–6     56 pp.     Roaring Brook/Porter

Illustrated by Julie Morstad. This collection of nearly fifty poems begins and ends on “march 20” with a blue bird on a flowering tree branch (and with the same poem). In between are poems for days throughout the year. Morstad’s gouache and pencil-crayon pictures and Fogliano’s poetry are delicately precise, gracefully and economically expressed, and filled with the wonder of genuine childhood experience.
Subjects: Poetry; Seasons

hopkins_amazing placesHopkins, Lee Bennett  Amazing Places
Gr. 4–6     40 pp.     Lee

Illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. Each of fourteen poems centers on one particular location in the U.S. The focus is as much on people as on scenery, with many of the poems written in the first person. Soentpiet and Hale combine their talents to showcase the special elements of a place as well as the response of people to it. An impressively diverse, polished, and inspiring collection. Information about the sites is appended.
Subjects: Poetry Collections; History, American; National parks and reserves

gerstein_i am panGerstein, Mordicai  I Am Pan!
Gr. K–3     80 pp.     Roaring Brook

Untrammeled ego, resilient, charming — this is a Pan we all recognize. In this set of the Greek god’s adventures — including the invention of panic, falling in love with the moon, and helping Zeus defeat the monster Typhon — panel illustrations match words with a hectic, nervous line; Day-Glo colors; and an uppercase hand-lettered text. A genial author’s note and brief list of sources provide some context.
Subjects: Folktales, Myths, and Legends; Mythology, Greek; Gods and goddesses

orgill_jazz dayOrgill, Roxane  Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
Gr. 4–6     64 pp.     Candlewick

Illustrated by Francis Vallejo. On August 12, 1958, fifty-plus jazz musicians gathered in Harlem for a group photo shoot. This iconic photo is the springboard for a series of twenty-one poems and a set of personality-rich illustrations. The words take you back to the photo—reproduced here as a gatefold spread — and the excellent list of sources leads you back to the music. Websites. Bib.
Subjects: Poetry; Music—Jazz; Musicians; Photography


olshan_voyage-in-the-cloudsOlshan, Matthew  A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785
Gr. K–3     40 pp.     Farrar/Ferguson

Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. In 1785, Dr. John Jeffries and Jean-Pierre Blanchard were determined to complete the first international flight by crossing the English Channel in a hot-air balloon. The voyage (apart from the cantankerous pair’s arguments) is going well…until the balloon overinflates. Blackall’s witty illustrations — including occasional comic-panel strips — feel plucked from the time period. An author’s note reveals the creative adaptations of factual events.
Subjects: Picture Books; Voyages and travels; Vehicles—Hot air balloons; Blanchard, Jean-Pierre; Jeffries, John; Flight; England; France; Pilots; Behavior—Cooperation

tonatiuh_funny bonesTonatiuh, Duncan  Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras
Gr. K–3     40 pp.     Abrams

José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913) didn’t invent those iconic Day of the Dead skeletons, but they attained their greatest popularity during the years he drew them. Tonatiuh, in his signature flat illustrative style, digitally layers various colors and textures onto simple, black-outlined drawings; Posada’s own artwork also plays a prominent role. The straightforward narrative incorporates biographical highlights and personal anecdotes; extended sidebars illustrate printing processes. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Visual Arts; Posada, José Guadalupe; Printmaking; Mexico; Skeletons; Biographies; Holidays—Day of the Dead; Artists

weatherford_voice of freedomWeatherford, Carole Boston  Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
Gr. 4–6     45 pp.     Candlewick

Illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Weatherford chronicles the life of civil rights icon Hamer from her beginnings as the child of Mississippi sharecroppers, through the evolution of her political awareness, to her lasting impact on the civil rights movement. Conversational free-verse text seamlessly incorporates direct quotes; richly colored collage illustrations add emotional heft. This majestic biography places the civil rights movement in personal, local, national, and international contexts. Timeline. Bib.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Race relations; Women—African Americans; African Americans; Women—Biographies; Civil rights; Social reformers; Women—Social reformers; Hamer, Fannie Lou; Women—Civil rights

From the December 2016 issue of What Makes a Good…?: “What Makes a Good Picture Book?”

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